Lifetime Film Review: The Lost Wife of Robert Durst (dir by Yves Simoneau)

Tonight’s Lifetime premiere was The Lost Wife of Robert Durst, the latest of many films to deal with the 1982 disappearance of Kathie Durst and the subsequent activities of her husband, millionaire weirdo Robert Durst.

The disappearance of Kathie Durst is an intriguing cold case.  Robert Durst was a member of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in New York.  Many have speculated that may be why Durst was never charged with anything, despite the fact that everyone was convinced that he was responsible for her disappearance.  (Others have pointed out that most of the evidence against Durst was circumstantial and that Kathie’s body has never been found.)  Durst, himself, appears to have spent the last few decades as something of a millionaire hobo.  His best friend, Susan Berman, was murdered in 2000.  (Berman provided Durst with an alibi for the night of Kathie’s disappearance.)  Durst himself eventually turned up in Galveston, where he attempted to disguise himself as a woman and was eventually arrested for murdering his neighbor, Morris Black.  Durst was acquitted in that case.  All Good Things, a feature film starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst, led to resurgence of interest in the case of Kathie’s disappearance.  It also led to a HBO documentary series, called The Jinx.  In an act that was either extremely cocky or extremely self-destructive, Durst agreed to be interviewed for the documentary, implicated himself in all three of the murders that he was suspected of committing, and was subsequently charged with murdering Susan Berman.

It’s one of those stories that, when you hear the details, you can hardly believe is true.  It has everything: love, greed, sex, jealousy, politics, the mafia, and several unsolved murders.  It’s not surprising that there’s been several movies and TV shows based on the Durst case.  The problem that every new film faces is what can it add to the story that we haven’t already seen.  The Lost Wife of Robert Durst is relatively well-made but there’s really nothing here that you couldn’t find in All Good Things or The Jinx.  This is like the Wikipedia version of Durst case.  It gives you all the details without going into too much depth about any of it.

Of course, one of the main questions about this case is whether Robert Durst is mentally ill or if he’s just extremely clever.  Those that claim that Durst is crazy tend to point out that he saw his mother commit suicide when he was a young boy, that he has a habit of muttering to himself, and that he lives like a hermit despite all of his money.  Those who claim that Durst is actually very clever and in total control of all of his actions point out that all of Durst’s alleged crimes required extensive planning and that, in The Jinx, he was caught saying, “What the Hell did I do?  Killed them all, of course.”  That would seem to indicate that Durst is fully aware of whatever he may have done.  The question of Durst’s sanity is not a minor one.  In some states, it would be the difference between life in prison and execution.

The Lost Wife of Robert Durst attempts to have it both ways.  As played by Daniel Gillies, Durst is obviously unstable yet clearly calculating at the same time.  In fact, I would argue that, from a purely dramatic point of view, Gillies plays Durst as being a little too obviously unstable.  You find yourself wondering why Kathie (played by Katharine McPhee) would have ever agreed to go out with him in the first place, much less marry him.  As played by McPhee, Kathie is almost as hard to read as Durst.  Even in the scenes depicting the early days of Durst marriage, the lack of chemistry between Gillies and McPhee is a problem.  I spent most of the film wishing that it would dig a little bit deeper into the case.  Then again, considering that Durst has yet to be convicted on any charges, I suppose there’s only so much that the movie could suggest.  (All Good Things changed everyone’s names, which gave it at least a little bit of freedom to speculate.)

That said, the Robert Durst story is such a strange one that, flaws and all, The Lost Wife of Robert Durst is watchable.  It’s a good enough introduction to the case, if you’re looking for one.  Ultimately, though, All Good Things remains the Durst film to watch.


Insomnia File #22: Insomnia (dir by Christopher Nolan)

What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Last night, if you were up at 2 in the morning, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the atmospheric 2002 mystery, Insomnia.

I have to admit that I’m cheating a little bit by including Insomnia in a series about obscure films that you might find on cable late at night.  While Insomnia does seem to often turn up during the early morning hours, it’s hardly an obscure film.  A remake of an acclaimed Norwegian film, it not only stars three Oscar winners (Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank) but it was directed by Christopher Nolan.  Insomnia got a lot of attention when it was first released in 2002.  But, doing an insomnia file about a movie that’s actually about insomnia was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.

I should also mention that I didn’t have insomnia last night.  I was up because I currently have a cold and I watched Insomnia in a feverish and congested haze.  And yet I couldn’t help but feel that, somehow, that was actually the ideal way to watch Insomnia.  With its ominous atmosphere and Nolan’s eye for the surreal, Insomnia plays out like a semi-lucid fever dream.

A teenage girl has been murdered in a small Alaskan fishing village.  The chief of police (played by the great character actor Paul Dooley) asks his former LAPD partner, Will Dormer (Al Pacino), to come to Alaska and help with the investigation.  Accompanying Dormer is his partner and friend, Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan).

Dormer has issues that go far beyond anything happening in Alaska.  He’s burned out and he’s plagued by rumors that, in the past, he was a crooked cop.  He’s being investigated by Internal Affairs and, shortly after they arrive in Alaska, Eckhart admits that he’s been given immunity as part of a deal to testify against Dormer.  While pursuing the suspected murderer through the Alaskan fog, Dormer fires his gun.  When the fog clear, Dormer discovers that he’s killed Eckhart.  Was it an accident or did Dormer intentionally shoot  his partner?  Not even Dormer seems to know for sure.  He lies and says that the murderer shot Eckhart.

Working with a local detective (Hilary Swank), Dormer tries to solve the Alaska murder, with the knowledge that, once he does, he’ll have to return to Los Angeles and he’ll probably be indicted.  Because of the midnight sun, night never falls in Alaska and, tortured by guilt, Dormer cannot sleep.  Add to that, the murderer knows that Dormer shot Eckhart.  And now, he’s calling Dormer and cruelly taunting him.

Who is the murderer?  His name is Walter Finch.  He’s a writer and, in a stroke of brilliance, he’s played by none other than Robin Williams.  To me, Robin Williams’s screen presence always carried hints of narcissism and self-destruction.  Even in comedic roles, there was a transparent but very solid wall between Williams the audience.  When he was shouting out a thousand words a minute and rapidly switching from one character to the next, it always seemed as if it was all a technique to keep anyone from figuring out who he really was.  In Insomnia (and, that same year, in One Hour Photo), Robin Williams reveals an inner darkness that he rarely showed before or after.  Finch may possess Williams’s trademark eccentric smile and nervous voice but, underneath the surface, he’s an empty shell who views human beings as being as disposable as the characters in his paperback novels.

Christopher Nolan takes us directly into the heads of these two enemies, with shots of the desolate Alaskan landscape seeming to perfectly capture the inner desolation of two minds destroyed by guilt and paranoia.  (Neither Finch nor Dormer is capable of connecting with the world outside of his damaged psyche.)  As seen through Nolan’s lens, Alaska becomes as surreal and haunting as one of the dream landscapes from Inception.  For those of us who found both The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar to be so bombastic that they verged on self-parody, Insomnia is a nice reminder that Nolan doesn’t need a pounding Han Zimmer score to make a great movie.  With Insomnia, Nolan gives us not bombast but a deceptively low-key and atmospheric journey into the heart of darkness.

Ironically, for a film about two men who cannot sleep, Insomnia will haunt your dreams.


Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth

Ant-Man Keeps the Marvel Train Moving Along


Will Marvel Studios have it’s first misstep when Ant-Man arrives in theaters this July? Or will it surpass many people’s expectations the way Guardians of the Galaxy did when it came out late summer of 2014? These are questions that fans and critics alike have been pondering since the rather underwhelming teaser trailer which was released earlier this year.

Now, with Avengers: Age of Ultron just weeks away from bulldozing over everything in it’s way it looks like Marvel and Disney have turned their attention to getting the Ant-Man hype train up to speed. If any film needs some fueling up it would be this one which has had a more than contentious production. It loses it’s original director in Edgar Wright after he and the heads at Marvel Studios (Kevin Feige) disagreed on how to proceed with the film. The search for a director to replace Wright became a game of which comedic filmmaker would pass on the project next (Peyton Reed finally was the last man standing).

When the teaser finally came out the tone it gave seemed too serious for a film that was being billed as a sort of action-comedy or, at the very least, an action film that included more than the usual comedic beats than past films in the MCU.

Today we see the first official trailer for Ant-Man and gone is the super serious tone of the teaser and in comes a mixture of action and comedy. It’s a trailer that actually gives us an idea of the sort of powers the title character has outside of being just being tiny. Then we get more than just a glimpse of Scott Lang’s main antagonist with Corey Stoll in the role of Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket.

Maybe this film will still end up giving Marvel Studio it’s very first black-eye, but this trailer goes a major way in making sure it doesn’t happen.

Ant-Man is set for a July 17, 2015 release date.

Trailer: Ant-Man

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First they said that Guardians of the Galaxy will be the first misstep in the rolling juggernaut train that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How could a film adaptation of a comic book that even hardcore readers barely know ever hit it big with the general public. Yet, it more than shot down detractors and nyasayers to become the biggest hit of 2014 and help usher in a major change in how people will now look at the MCU.

So, Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t the first mistake. Then it has to be 2015’s Ant-Man starring Paul Rudd and a film already known for being the one where Edgar Wright was forced to leave as director. Yes, this will be Marvel Studios first misstep and it will show that Kevin Feige’s producer-driven plan will never trump the creative-driven director tradition.

So, during the season premiere of Agent Carter, we finally have the first official trailer for Ant-Man. Time will tell if this does become Marvel’s first bump in their road to world domination or will it surprise everyone the way Guardians of the Galaxy did this part summer of 2014.

Ant-Man is set for a July 17, 2015 release date.

Trailer: Sabotage (Red Band)


Since Arnold Schwarzenneger left the California governor’s office and politics he’s gone back to doing what he was good at (or at least good at during the 80’s and 90’s). His first couple of films since getting back in front of the camera has been average at best (though I must say that Last Stand was pretty fun).

Now, we have him back in another film, but this time around one that’s a very hard, gritty R-rating that he hasn’t done since ever. He’s always had rated-R films, but they had a certain fun tone to them. With David Ayer’s Sabotage it looks like Schwarzenneger is trying to flex his hardcore bones. It’s definitely a surprise to hear him curse like a sailor during the red band trailer.

Sabotage is set for a March 28, 2014, release date.